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Dryptosaurus Needs a Hand

Artist Tyler Keillor wants to bring Dryptosaurus--an unsung tyrannosaur--back to life

I have a soft spot for Dryptosaurus. The enigmatic tyrannosauroid was found in my previous home state of New Jersey, and, more than that, played a key role in helping 19th-century paleontologists revise their understanding of just what a dinosaur really was. I even took the theropod’s original name–”Laelaps“, sadly found to be preoccupied by a kind of mite–as my nom de blog. The dinosaur perfectly combines my love of tyrannosaurs and the history of science with a reminder of where I came from.

Despite the historic importance of Dryptosaurus, though, the Late Cretaceous predator has since been overshadowed by bigger, badder dinosaurian carnivores. While Dryptosaurus seemed to be the baddest the prehistoric Jersey shore had to offer when E.D. Cope first described the tyrannosauroid in 1866, and was forever immortalized by artist Charles R. Knight in his “Leaping Laelaps” painting, more complete skeletons of other theropods had relegated Dryptosaurus to the background. Even worse, there’s little hope that we’re ever going to completely comprehend this dinosaur. Many isolated bones have been attributed to Dryptosaurus over the years, but New Jersey’s Cretaceous dinosaurs are known from bits and pieces that were washed out into the primeval Atlantic. Even if there is another partial skeleton out there somewhere, the suburban sprawl of the Garden State has probably paved over it by now.

That’s why I’m ecstatic that the exceptional artist and sculptor Tyler Keillor is planning on creating a full-scale Dryptosaurus restoration. Even though much about this dinosaur remains unknown, I think Keillor’s Kickstarter project is a wonderful way to pay tribute to one of my favorite dinosaurs. Even better, the project will highlight the long history of American paleontology and the critical role East coast fossils played in our ever-shifting understanding of dinosaurs. I’m confident Keillor can successfully bring the dinosaur back to life, or as close to it as art supplies will allow–two years ago, I interviewed Keillor about a full-size, fuzzy Dryptosaurus head he had created. It’s a gorgeous sculpture that really captures the spirit of the dinosaur. Now it’s time to put the rest of the tyrannosauroid’s body in place.

About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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